In 1904, the first Scandinavian settlers moved onto the Spirit Lake Dakota Indian Reservation. These land-hungry immigrants struggled against severe poverty, often becoming the sharecropping tenants of Dakota landowners. Yet the homesteaders' impoverishment did not impede their quest to acquire Indian land, and by 1929 Scandinavians owned more reservation acreage than their Dakota neighbors. Norwegian homesteader Helena Haugen Kanten put it plainly: "We stole the land from the Indians."
With this largely unknown story at its center, Encounter on the Great Plains brings together two dominant processes in American history: the unceasing migration of newcomers to North America, and the protracted dispossession of indigenous peoples who inhabited the continent.
Drawing on fifteen years of archival research and 130 oral histories, Karen V. Hansen explores the epic issues of co-existence between settlers and Indians and the effect of racial hierarchies, both legal and cultural, on marginalized peoples. Hansen offers a wealth of intimate detail about daily lives and community events, showing how both Dakotas and Scandinavians resisted assimilation and used their rights as new citizens to combat attacks on their cultures. In this flowing narrative, women emerge as resourceful agents of their own economic interests. Dakota women gained autonomy in the use of their allotments, while Scandinavian women staked and "proved up" their own claims.
Hansen chronicles the intertwined stories of Dakotas and immigrants-women and men, farmers, domestic servants, and day laborers. Their shared struggles reveal efforts to maintain a language, sustain a culture, and navigate their complex ties to more than one nation. The history of the American West cannot be told without these voices: their long connections, intermittent conflicts, and profound influence over one another defy easy categorization and provide a new perspective on the processes of immigration and land taking.
Karen V. Hansen is Professor of Sociology & Women's and Gender Studies at Brandeis University. She is the author of Not-So-Nuclear Families: Class, Gender, and Networks of Care and A Very Social Time: Crafting Community in Antebellum New England
"Karen Hansen does a remarkable job of describing [the] changing relationships on the human and local level through deep archival research and oral histories This discussion is more pertinent than ever with the advent of settler colonialism analysis, which associates the settler complex identity with ongoing conflicts such as the renaming of Devils Lake Sioux to the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation. This work advances that discussion in important ways that ultimately respect the indigenous peoples and the immigrant Scandinavians in their homelands." --Contemporary Sociology
"I wish more scholars were as open as Karen Hansen in sharing the personal ties that draw them to their subject matter, and I'm so glad she followed the trail of her childhood curiosity. Her sensitive, multifaceted, gracefully written portrait of the interactions between Dakota Indians and Scandinavian immigrants-both peoples feeling far from their native lands-is fascinating. I'm not surprised she received a postcard from one of her interview subjects saying, 'Thanks for making our lives more interesting.' Readers of this book will feel the same." --Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains and To End All Wars
"Most 'multicultural' histories fail to capture how different groups have mutually shaped the conditions for each other's existence. In marked contrast, this remarkable account offers a layered and nuanced understanding of how the lives of indigenous Dakotas and Norwegian immigrants were deeply intertwined. Both groups resisted prevailing pressures to assimilate, but the distinct ways they were racialized led to dramatically different outcomes." --Michael Omi, University of California, Berkeley
"Karen V. Hansen's study links Scandinavian immigrant history and American Indian studies in ways never before attempted. Defined by federal acts, these cultures established parallel lives on the reservation across new and delicate ideas of landownership. Hansen evinces a profound sense of how stories contribute to a shared past, and Encounter on the Great Plains deserves a firm position in the canon of American Studies." --Oyvind T. Gulliksen, Telemark University College, Norway
"A compelling account of the Spirit Lake Dakota Reservation, Encounter on the Great Plains narrates the interaction of massive Indian dispossession under the Dawes Act with the Homestead policy that drew land hungry Scandinavian immigrants West. Entangled with this place by her own family's past, Karen Hansen reconstructs an immensely complicated moment through the lenses of family history, land, citizenship, and culture." --Jean O'Brien, Professor of History, University of Minnesota
"How did it happen that Scandinavian immigrants and their descendants came to live together on a Dakota Indian reservation? Here is the story, profoundly human, of dispossession and occupation: deftly nuanced, deeply sourced, engagingly written. A first-rate history." --Walter Nugent, author of Into the West: The Story of Its People
"Author Karen Hansen provides a fascinating and informative look at the relationships among the Norwegians, Dakota Indians, and the culture at large. She explores their conflicting perspectives and weaves the recollections of the people of the area, both European immigrant and native, together to create a remarkably detailed picture of life on the reservation for both groups. Not only do you learn a lot about the history of this area and the immigrant experience, but you also gain an understanding of, as the title suggests, the 'dispossession of Dakota Indians'... The book will both educate and entertain you with its thoughtful study of Spirit Lake Reservation society in the early 20th century. If you're looking for a good book to read on this winter's long cold nights, I can heartily recommend it!" --Anne Sladky, Telelaget of America
"Hansen attempts to provide a balanced view of both Dakota and Scandinavian (largely Norwegian) immigrant populations. She presents representative perspectives from both genders, and a range of ages and socioeconomic status. Her research is well documented, with helpful appendices and liberal notes about her sources. Hansen's conversational prose is well-suited to a wide range of audiences." --Norwegian-American Historical Association
"Author Karen Hansen provides a fascinating and informative look at the relationships among the Norwegians, Dakota Indians, and the culture at large... Not only do you learn a lot about the history of this area and the immigrant experience, but you also gain an understanding of, as the title suggests, the 'dispossession of Dakota Indians'... The book will both educate and entertain you with its thoughtful study of Spirit Lake Reservation society in the early 20th century." --BRUA, a publication by the Hadeland Lag of America
"...one of the most innovative books on the Great Plains since Pekka Hämäläinen's Comanche Empire. In detailing the rich sociocultural interactions between Scandinavian settlers and the Dakota nation, Hansen moves beyond simply recounting how the Dakota Nation lost land in the Great Plains. This monograph voice to those who lived together on Spirit Lake, and in doing so, it becomes a book that seeks reconciliation with Hansen's familial past by explaining how the Scandinavian and Dakota families faced what both groups viewed as uncertain futures." --Great Plains Quarterly
"This is a welcome regional history filtered through a variety of social scientific theory, and it opens doors to further conversations about where Native and non-Native relations have been and are situated today on the northern Great Plains." --The Social Science Journal
"Hansen paints a picture of a spatial entity in which divergent ethnic groups have accepted life with each other but have not forsaken their respective identities and alliances. The author makes a bold effort to demystify the notion that each group ever lived in a vacuum, and she provides a viable model for future analyses of interethnic relations on allotted reservations and the historical complexities of indigenous-settler relations in particular spaces." - American Journal of Sociology
"Hansen freely acknowledges the difficulty of reconstructing the lives of people who left few personal records. She admirably fills in the gaps with extensive use of oral history but notes that memory can distort the past as well as illuminate it." --South Dakota History
"Her ability to bridge Scandinavian Studies and American Indian Studies in concert with her other disciplinary lenses makes this volume an invaluable contribution to respective scholarly communites and to the attentive public. Hansen's book serves as a powerful agent that begins to modify the cultural landscape of prairie residents' current and remembered pasts." --Melissa Gjellstad, Scandinavian Studies"R
"Hansen offers a wealth of intimate detail about daily lives and community events, showing how both Dakotas and Scandinavians resisted assimilation and to combat attacks on their cultures from outside forces. This book provides a real story not found in textbooks of how those who lived together on Spirit Lake interacted with each other on a number of levels. The book provides an even-handed approach that explains how her own family and other Scandinavian families learned to co-exist with the Dakota peoples that were their neighbors. " --Bob Brown, Whispering Wind magazine
"This book provides a real story not found in textbooks of how those who lived together on Spirit Lake interacted with each other on a number of levels. This book....is a well-reserached one about a period and place in hisotry that has not been fully explored." --Whispering Wind, Issue #305, Vol 45 #1
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